Because we live in such a technologically advanced world, it is hard for some people to imagine a time without Internet, cell phones, and television. Communication in todays world is instantaneous, even if the news is coming from all the way around the world. The Internet makes accessing worldwide and national events as easy as clicking a mouse, and cell phones help family and friends keep in touch. But the single most effective instrument in reaching billions of people in an instant is television. Before the time of TV, most people depended on radio, newspapers, and telegrams to get their information across the nation all means which can be incredibly time consuming. With the invention of the television set, Americans all over the country were able to receive tons of information about groundbreaking events taking place all over the world. Television brought wars right into your living room, and made ignoring such events impossible. The impact of TV can be seen in the general attitudes of many Americans towards the Vietnam War. Because of the television, the Vietnam War became one of the most controversial international conflicts in American history.
Even though one person cannot be accredited with the invention of the television, the process of inventing the television can be broken down into different stages (Paterson 434). The first components of the television were first seen in the late 1800s, early 1900s. German scientist Karl Braun invented the cathode ray tube in 1897, and continued to perfect the instrument until his death. The cathode ray tube was an instrumental constituent of the television, and was used as the basis for the television picture tube seen in most TV sets today (Abramson 53). Vladimir Kosma Zworykin then perfects the cathode-ray tube, and calls it the kinescope in 1929, a tube needed for TV transmission. Zworykin also invents the iconoscope, an early television camera in his lifetime (Paterson 412). In 1927, Philo Farnsworth was the first inventor to transmit a television image, a dollar sign, comprised of 60 horizontal lines. Farnsworth also developed the dissector tube, the basis of all current electronic televisions (Abramson 39). Although he won an early patent for his image dissection tube, he lost later patent battles to RCA. Farnsworth then went on to invent over 165 different devices, including equipment for converting an optical image into an electrical signal. He is also responsible for inventing many early forms of the amplifier, vacuum tubes, electrical scanners, electron multipliers and other photoelectric materials (Paterson 419).
With the invention of the television and different sets on the market, it was only a matter of time before every single American home was the proud owner of their very own television set. Popular sitcoms included The Honeymooners, Lassie, Father Knows Best, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and I Love Lucy featured popular characters who reached the living rooms of millions of viewers (Pavese 201). Families enjoyed variety shows like Disneyland and The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday evenings. Daytime programs known as soap operas became popular, such as The Guiding Light, and helped advertise thousands of products to the homemakers of America (Pavese 204). News broadcasting changed from newsmen simply reading the news on the radio to shows which included videotaped pictures of events which had occurred all over the world, and then eventually to live broadcasts of events happening at the time of viewing. This was made possible in 1951 with the development of coaxial cable and microwave relays, which could transmit pictures coast to coast (Abramson 53).
The television brought entertainment into the lives of millions of Americans, but it also served the purpose of bringing information into the lives of Americans as well. The Vietnam War was heavily broadcasted, and Americans could see exactly what was happening in the jungle terrain of Vietnam and witness the hundreds of deaths that could only be reported years before (Tucker 927). The only previous international conflict of this magnitude was World War II, and news in the era of the 1940s traveled mainly by word of mouth or by the radio. With the invention of the television, Americans were able to see the atrocities occurring on the other side of the Earth, and it was almost impossible to ignore the impact of such a war (Zhai 109). It was constantly pounded into their everyday lives. Every advancement the American troops made in Vietnam was immediately broadcasted into the living rooms of American citizens, and every war casualty was also displayed blatantly on TV as well (Tucker 928).
Even though there were many other factors that add to the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, the magnitude of the war in American lives was incredible, and never seen before in any other conflict in American history. Other aspects, which added to the unpopularity of the war, include the fifty-eight thousand American deaths and close to $150 billion dollar debt spent in Vietnam (Zhai 113). Along with the lives and money that were placed into the war effort, a little less than twenty years was spent in Vietnam trying to put an end to the guerilla warfare that plagued the land (Tucker 912). Direct American involvement began in 1955 with the arrival of the first advisors. The first combat troops arrived in 1965 and the US fought the war until the cease-fire of January 1973. The war lasted longer and took a higher toll than any other political advisor or military consultant could have ever imagined (Zhai 123). The expenses that were slowly mounting on the American government and people were constantly being blasted into the lives of millions of Americans, and wherever you turned there was news of either someone else dying or more money being poured into the endless warfare (Tucker 908). If the outlook of the American people was positive in the beginning of the war, it didnt take long for their attitude to sour. Broadcasts of protests, marches, and parades of citizens who believed the war was a futile attempt at saving a country with almost no ties to the US were also prevalent.
Because of the invention of the television, people were able to see everything that happened in Vietnam. Even after the war, Americans were hesitant to step foot into another long and arduous military campaign with any other country, and that affect has lasted even to the present day. No other major world conflict has been seen between the conclusion of the Vietnam War and the present. Direct involvement in the war began in 1955, only a decade or so after the conclusion of World War II. American has gone almost 30 years without a conflict close in magnitude to WWII and Vietnam (Zhai 156). The television has helped by bringing Americans closer to what war really looks like. Hearing it from a neighbor and reading it in the newspaper is nothing like actually seeing the atrocities with your own eyes, and people began to realize with the help of television that war is not always honorable or respectable, its a waste of human life.
- Abramson, Albert. The History of Television: 1942 to 2000. New York: McFarland Publishing Company, 2003.
- Paterson, Richard. Smith, Anthony. Television: An International History, Second Edition. London: Oxford University Press, 1998.
- Pavese, Edith. TV Mania: A Timeline of Television. New York: Henry A. Abrams and Company, 1998.
- Tucker, Spencer C. Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History. London: Oxford University Press, 2001.
- Zhai, Qiang. China and the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975 (The New Cold War History). Charlotte: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.